It’s really hard explaining what it’s like to leave evangelical Christianity to people who have never experienced it.
The best analogy I have: it’s like a break up.
I say this because of the way faith was framed in the movement. I was told that I wasn’t promoting a religion—I was in a relationship with Jesus Christ. I was pushed to cultivate that relationship, to feed it every morning with devotional time, to silently pray through each moment of my day until I fell asleep at night. This relationship, I was told, would make me rich inside. It would make me happier than any secular person. If I gave myself fully to Jesus, if I loved him so much that I practically turned into him, I would fulfill God’s destiny for my life.
If I handed my autonomy over to this version of God, I would self-actualize.
It’s such smart framing for a cult that wants to keep its members complacently spinning in circles. The more personal you make things, the more difficult it will be for people to detach themselves. Tell them they’re married to Jesus! Tell them they can only hear his real voice through the Bible! Then decree yourself the ultimate authority on what the Bible is actually saying.
I fell in love with this version of God, but I realize now that what I really fell for were the people who created him. The evangelical church’s interpretations, dominated by white male pastors, created the outline for this God, and they were the only ones allowed to color him in. It was a loving God, they said, who was just and kind and merciful. He was also jealous and self-righteous—slow to anger, but nevertheless, capable of it.
And with that, they laid the groundwork for an abusive relationship.
The whole experience was just as cyclical as the classic model. God entered, told me he loved me, we had a great time in moments of prayer, then BOOM, I get the desire to be a pastor. Nope, sorry, you can’t be one God says, you’re a woman, I say no. Slapped back down, shamed for my gender, God says he loves me again and we’re back to square one. We’re happy, happy, strolling along, eating scriptural ice cream, then I get a crush on a guy and want to ask him out. NO WAY, God says, you can’t do that. The role of pursuit belongs to men, you’re paralyzed because you’re a woman, sorry. Just focus on how much you love me.
I have crush on a non-believer. I kiss a non-believer.
GOD IS JEALOUS JEALOUS JEALOUS. ANGER. FIRE. SADNESS. WEEPING. WRATH.
But he loves me. He loves me. I can’t make my own choices because he loves me.
Let me be clear: God was controlling as fuck, and when I dumped that asshole, he did not leave easily. The evangelical church was right there with the interpretations, my brothers and sisters in Christ presenting me with lines they had been given by our pastors. You’re talking a lot about doctrine, but what about Jesus? Have you been worshipping the real, living him? I just want to be sure God’s in the driver’s seat of your life.
NO MOTHERFUCKERS. I’m taking back control of the wheel! This God had left me in such a cloudy haze of depression and he wasn’t even turning the goddamn defroster on. I needed to do the responsible thing and drive my own car, right out of his shitty cloud castle and, for the first time in a long time, into a land of my own making.
Being an ex of the evangelical god is, in a lot of ways, one of the most complicated things a person can be. It involves ending a relationship with a literal puppet spirit who is actually a conglomeration of a bunch of sexist cis white men who want to ideologically control you and, ultimately, the world. It’s being the ex of a line of thinking, one that is bent on robbing you of your identity. It’s losing your identity, and then having to find it again, right back at square one.
It’s brave. Breaking up with this God is so very brave.
I have come to see myself on the other end of this as a survivor of a spiritually abusive relationship. I’ll probably deal with the trauma and pain of what happened my whole life, but being able to talk about it the way I did at the very beginning—as a relationship—has been strangely validating.
Maybe it’s because the word relationship is the only word that can get across the impact it had on me, the time it took away. I have spent so much time feeling like I lost a part of my life to this God.
I still feel that way. I’d like those years back, but I’m figuring out what it means now to live without them.